Eating to Thrive

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baked goodsBy: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern

In my recovery process from anorexia nervosa, I have created a rule: If I bake an item, I must try it. As part of my struggle with my eating disorder, I have become an exquisite baker. I do truly love to bake. But in the past, I would never eat any of the treats I made, instead only sharing them with others. Likewise, the other night before I went to bed, I came across a tray of cookies I had made for the holidays. I am still learning, but I eat fairly flexibly. However, my first thought was, I don’t need that; I could eat something more nutritionally substantial. In response, immediately decided to act opposite to that thought – why not eat the cookie? Although I have been through similar cognitive processes lately, I have been moving toward “losing the guilt.” I have eaten the less “safe” option before, but always followed by a barrage of self-berating comments correlating my sense of being with what I had consumed.

The truth is, what we eat has absolutely no connection with our worthiness as human beings. None. Only on the surface are eating disorders about the food, but that is just the “tip of the iceberg.” However, I do want to address the way eating well is crucial to being well. Despite what our cultural messages might suggest, our dietary choices say nothing about who we are as people, our abilities, or our quality of character. Furthermore, all foods can fit into any “plan” – whether a person follows an exchange based diet or intuitively eats. Our bodies are intelligent. When we can reach a point in which we truly can listen to our bodies – and experience hunger and fullness cues – our bodies will be able to moderate what we eat, eating more at some times, eating less at others.

Although considering the nutritional value of a particular food has its place, good nutrition is also about including a wide variety of foods and experiencing enjoyment of taste as a sensory pleasure. Although we are subject to an onslaught of buzz about the “Raw Food Revolution” or the “Paleo Diet,” the idea of a “perfect diet” does not exist. Rather, being able to eat flexibly, adapting to different situations, showing a willingness to try new foods, is true healthy eating. We need to be able to recognize that it is okay to eat more of something simply because it tastes good. Upon either eating a sandwich or piece of cake, our bodies will recognize grains as grains, proteins as proteins, and break them down as such for energy, not distinguishing between types of items that we have labeled as being “good” or “bad.”

Truthfully, earlier in recovery, I could have cared less about eating for health. I just wanted to eat as much as I absolutely had to in order to live, not just marginally survive. At that time, I saw living without my eating disorder as doing the minimum necessary to eat within a framework that promoted an essential intake. However, over time, I have begun to better understand that just eating to live – while still having restrictions on what one can and cannot have – keeps one foot in the disorder, encaged. We need to eat well not to merely survive or even live, but thrive. As a result, my next steps have involved breaking down each and every one of the last rules that hold me back from full recovery, an outlook that Project HEAL promotes and believes is fully possible. I am excited to continue and share in my journey as I begin a new blogging adventure, and look forward to having you join me in the process.